Mining Industry Sees Need to Consult Aboriginals

The Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, and the mining industry in general, is wooing aboriginals with special programs and learning about their cultures

The global mining industry descended upon Toronto from March 4–7 for the annual meeting of the Prospect & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC), amping up efforts to woo aboriginals to their resource-extraction cause.

The convention for the group, in its 80th year, drew more than 30,000 attendees, PDAC said. This year offered even more opportunities than in the past for mining officials to reach out to indigenous communities, due to PDAC's expanded Aboriginal Program.

From sessions on how to train and hire aboriginal people, to ways on getting them to agree to development on their lands, PDAC’s planners augmented the usual aboriginal-outreach program to include a forum on March 5 that showcased successful partnerships between aboriginals and the mineral industry. A presentation about the crescent-like swathe of land known as the Ring of Fire in northern Ontario highlighted cooperation between Webequie First Nation, Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. and Noront Resources Inc. and included a networking session.

"The expansion of the aboriginal program is a reflection of the natural partnership between aboriginal people and the mineral industry," PDAC President Scott Jobin-Bevans said in a statement before the conference. "Exploration and mining can be an engine for socio-economic development in aboriginal communities—it supports business development, jobs, training, education and sustainable economic and community development."

Aboriginal concerns even reached the hallowed halls of Forbes magazine, which ran a piece ahead of the conference advising companies on how to get indigenous groups on their side.

“Spend time learning the history and culture of local indigenous people with the goal of building relationships and trust,” wrote contributor Paul Klein as the first in 10 recommendations, followed by number two: “Acknowledge the right of indigenous people to informed consent; engage third party experts, chosen in consultation with affected communities, to assess and verify local conditions.”

Just before the conference, the Ontario government caught the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation and environmentalists by surprise when it suspended mineral exploration on 23,181 square kilometers (8,950 square miles) of their land. The First Nation has been in conflict with God’s Lake Resources Inc., which wants to mine in a burial ground, among other traditional lands.

It was seen by some, however, as more of a public-relations move than a show of respect to the KI.

“The last thing the Ontario government wants is another fight with the KI, especially while Toronto plays host to the mining world at PDAC,” said the Financial Post. “So it was not a surprise to see the government put out a statement Sunday saying that it has withdrawn all lands near the KI from prospecting and mineral staking.”